Pigeons by Kate Bingham

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I

It’s just the same old air a person breathes,
roughly the same respiratory system,
steady compared with ours, the same idea
of hindrance (flesh the breath must travel through,

a bottleneck or valve evolved to please,
an oscillating muscle mechanism)
amplified and at a pitch so nearly
human I, also, love the coo

of doves and wood-pigeons – even these
poor greasy rats-with-wings stop me to listen,
courting in the gutter: throaty, queer,
the thrum of it so low I am confused

for a moment, look up through the sky’s blue glare
to see a small propeller plane not there.

II

They show no interest in a box of chicken
left at the foot of the sickly mountain ash
on Zoffany Street, not even plain white rice
can tempt them, this is not a time to eat

this is the only time to be a pigeon –
his splayed fan-tail, her flirtatious dash,
more like a leap than flight, a flash of thigh
off the tarmac he will strut and sweep

as if to make her under-feathers thicken
fit for two bright little eggs to hatch –
oh let’s take off together somewhere nice
and peck ice-cream and walk our sticky feet

over rooftops, hum in harmony
our favourite love song down people’s chimneys.

III

Because I’ll never know which bird it is,
I have to love – or be able to love – them all
for standing on our terracotta chimney
when I needed something good to hear,

a freak acoustic swooping her or his
rendition of the feral pigeon call
pitched over trees and terraces in ecstasy
down and out through the fireplace, loud and clear

and making me smile as all the great depressives
smile finding they simply can’t recall
the last time anything made them feel so happy,
three floors up but sounding in my ear

a simple five-note song of bird that wants
this almost lost spontaneous response.


Kate Bingham is the author of two novels, several screenplays and three collections of poetry. Quicksand Beach was short-listed for the Forward Prize, Best Collection, in 2006, and in 2010 ‘On Highgate Hill’ was short-listed for the Forward Prize, Best Single Poem. Her third collection is Infragreen (‘full of sensuous, imaginative and beautifully accomplished work’, Poetry Review), from Seren, and her most recent work can be found in ‘Five Poems’, a leaflet available from Clutag Press. Find out more at katebingham.com.